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HONIARA – Although tuna has helped grow the Solomon Islands economy by bringing in jobs and government revenue, the country needs a fresh vision, according to homegrown fisheries law expert Transform Aqorau.
On World Tuna Day, Dr Aqorau said that Solomon Islands needed to reset its focus with fresh ideas so it could meet the growing challenges the tuna industry faced in the region.
He posed the question: what kind of vision does Solomon Islands want for its tuna fisheries by 2060?
Dr Aqorau, who is the CEO of iTuna Intel and a past chair of the Parties to Nauru Agreement, has a rich knowledge of the tuna industry – and of emerging challenges.
These included climate change, weak fisheries policies, a lack of technological advancement, and the need for more fisheries research.
According to Dr Aqorau, Solomon Islands could see a bigger and better tuna fishery if it addressed these challenges.
Beyond COVID-19 and through climate change
Overshadowing this year’s celebration of World Tuna Day were two natural phenomena that are causing a lot of global uncertainty: COVID-19 and climate change. Dr Aqorau said they would both leave an imprint on Solomon Islands fisheries resources and on food security.
They were forcing governments, businesses, individuals and communities to rethink how to manage fisheries and try to ensure that trade was uninterrupted, at a time where there were restrictions on the supply chain.
“So far, the SEAPODYM (Spatial Ecosystem and Population Dynamics Model) that has been developed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community is telling us that the population density of skipjack tuna, the primary source of Solomon Islands canned tuna product, is likely to shift to the eastern Pacific,” Dr Aqorau said.
It was therefore appropriate for Solomon Islanders to ask how they could respond to these challenges in a concerted and systematic manner.
“We know that a second cannery is going to be built in Bina, in Malaita Province. Its feasibility and viability are going to depend on its capacity to secure a steady supply of tuna to maintain a consistent throughput for the cannery,” Dr Aqorau said.
“Therefore, it is only appropriate to be asking questions about how we are going to guarantee that we can secure enough tuna resources to ensure the sustainability of Solomon Islands tuna industry.”
It was important to take a long-term view of the policies and the harvest strategies that were needed to ensure that the tuna stocks remained healthy and robust, and continued to support local communities.
“These are important considerations not just for Solomon Islands but for a number of Pacific Island countries as well.”
Reforming policies the way forward
Dr Aqorau said it was “obvious” that Solomon Islands needed to review its fisheries policy and reshape its fisheries management regime so that it could accommodate these emerging challenges. To do this, it was necessary to understand how well the current systems were performing.
“This could involve applying the fisheries governance diagnostic tools developed by MRAG Americas to test the performance of Solomon Islands fisheries management systems, and project the harvest strategy that will be required to support Solomon Islands tuna industry,” Dr Aqorau said.
The diagnostic test could look at the intersection between three factors to measure the current performance of the overall fisheries management systems. The first was whether there was a robust fisheries management policy in place. The second was whether the country had the capacity to implement that policy. The third looked at what measures and tools were in place to advance the policies.
Reviews should build on the framework of the Fisheries Management Act 2015, which needed amending, the draft Solomon Islands Tuna Management and Development Plan 2020–2025, and Solomon Islands National Ocean Policy. They should be utilised to reshape fisheries to help the country, including business, adapt to climate change.
Solomons as a hub of innovation
Dr Aqorau said there was “no doubt” that internet technology and advances in communication would significantly change the way business was conducted. With the right strategies, Solomon Islands could become the innovation hub for tuna development in the region.
“This will require having a long-term vision to support such a development. But more broadly, it will require the promulgation of necessary regulatory frameworks, systems, and policies so that private–public partnerships in innovative research and development can be promoted,” Dr Aqorau said.
“We should envision a fishery where innovation hubs are located within the same areas as the processing plants at Noro and Bina, providing tax-free areas for start-up technology and companies researching ways in which fisheries products can be value-added.”
Private–public sector partnerships could also provide ancillary services such as machining, welding, and net making.
The iTuna Intel boss suggested that Solomon Islands could also position itself to be the centre for innovative fisheries research.
This could be achieved by working with key partners such as the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Solomon Islands National University (SINU), and World Fish and other international ocean research institutions.
“Solomon Islands has to be envisioning how it will be able to provide employment and enough throughput in 2060 in view of the anticipated shifts in the productivity of its EEZ, which is already subject to seasonal variations,” he said.
“There is scope to investigate the development of more diverse range of fish products such as fish sausage, fish balls, and tuna shavings for soup. These are, perhaps, necessary as we look for ways in which food security can be ensured for Solomon Islands’ growing population.
“It will also be necessary to look at how the markets will be reached, and to ask the question as to what kind of products will be exported and how can these be marketed using some of the emerging technology platforms,” Dr Aqorau said.
To achieve this vision for Solomon Islands in 2060, the country also needed to review the skills that existed and which ones would be needed in 40 years’ time. It needed to embrace state-of-the-art technology and work closely with other Pacific Island countries to ensure the sustainability of regional tuna resources.
This story is adapted from the message on a more sustainable life in Solomon Islands given by Dr Transform Aqorau on World Tuna Day 2020.